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Yoga is a Sanskrit word that is difficult to translate accurately. It can mean union – a unification of two opposites or bringing fragmented aspects of ourselves together. It can also mean identity, wholeness or integrity. It implies a process of rediscovery of who we already are.
Yoga is a journey towards wholeness, health, inner peace and joy, but not a journey with a specific goal, but a lifelong adventure where the journey is the goal. Yoga is constantly evolving and this is what makes yoga so special and so exciting.
The misconception today is that yoga is an exercise program, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga postures are only one aspect of this ancient system of personal development. Yoga aims to still the mind – surrendering mental projections.
There are different texts discussing yoga, for example the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Patanjali was a sage who is said to be the founder of the yoga philosophy and the author of the Yoga Sutras (approx 2500 years ago). The Yoga Sutras is a major work containing aphorisms on the philosophical aspects of mind and consciousness.
Verse 2, chapter one in the Yoga Sutras: cittavrttinirodah (cessation of mental fluctuations) is Patanjali’s definition of yoga. It means a state of complete relaxation, inner peace and stillness yet it is a dynamic and alert stillness with great presence, awareness and aliveness rather than a sleepy or foggy state of mind. It is the integration of body, mind, breath and soul to oneness, a state of feeling whole and at one with ourselves, people around us, nature, the planet and the Universe.
Instead of allowing our mind to fill our days with worries, repetitive (negative) thoughts and thoughts about the past and the future, we realize that we can use yoga to train the mind to become still. This is a very important concept. When the mind is still we will view life in a very different way and we find that we can have a life filled with peace rather than struggle, regardless of the experiences we have. When we are calm on the inside we are more resilient to outside challenges and can view them with an attitude of compassion (for ourselves and everyone involved) and detachment.
Yoga has 8 parts or ‘limbs’ covering different aspects of life.
The Eight Limbs of yoga practice are:
(1) Yama (The five "abstentions"): nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, chastity, and abstain from attachment to possessions.
(2) Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to god
(3) Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to seated positions used for meditation. Later, with the rise of Hatha yoga, asana came to refer to all the "postures"
(4) Pranayama ("Lengthening Prāna"): Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, "āyāma", to lengthen or extend
(5) Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
(6) Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object
(7) Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation
(8) Samadhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation
A simple technique to use for achieving stillness of mind is to focus on the breath. We can do this while laying down in stillness, in a seated meditation pose or during yoga postures. As you practice this you will notice how a great sense of calm develops and it gradually deepens the longer you practice. You are training your mind to focus and relax. This has a profoundly healing affect on all aspects of your life.
It removes the need to criticise, getting angry or depressed or feeling inferior. It allows us to accept ourselves fully as we are and also to accept other people as they are. We see the beauty rather than what is wrong in everything, including ourselves. We realize that there are lessons to learn in every experience we have, and also that every experience is a gift. We give of ourselves in a relaxed, generous and joyful manner and respect the fact that we also need rest and quite time. We create balance and live in harmony with ourselves and everything around us. We surrender.